Book Review: The Masker by Torrey Peters

We all have heard of Torrey Peters right now. Haven’t you? Gorgeous trans-woman writing stories centering trans-women for trans people. Racy, honest, raw writing that might make us, cis-het, folks uncomfortable, googling a whole lot and feeling like we were not in on the secret. And that is a good thing.

But before unconventional relationships between three woman trying to raise a baby together, there were other novellas, like The Masker, which Peters self-published and sold on her website (or you could get an e-book for free). A few weeks back, she announced that there was to be no more. She was working on revising her work, which would be published by Random House as an affordable paperback.

But while we wait for that to happen, let me tell you about the original, un-revised version of The Masker, a story like no other I have ever read before.

Krys is young and pretty. She has recently transitioned and goes to a famous conference in Vegas for transwomen and cross-dressers. She’s shy and feeling out of place and an older, confident and experienced transwoman wants to take her under her wing and protect her from all the pain that she had to go through when she transitioned. But Krys has a long-time fantasy of force-feminization and being objectified by a handsome guy, and there he is. Handsome and with a reputation for being a bad boy. He seems into her, so will Krys do the right thing?

Peters does a fantastic job at painting her characters with nuance. They are flawed, vulnerable, scarred by pain and life, at times self-serving, but always very real. It feels like an honest look into experiences that are very far from mainstream literature, being mostly centered on cis-het women or occasionally, on gay men. So honest that at times, it feels invasive. It feels voyeuristic. It is erotic and dark and, at the same time, speaks to moral dilemmas that come with trying to be sexually honest.

I can’t wait to see what revisions brings on. In the meantime, I will hold to my now out-of-stock paperback like the treasure it is.

Book Review: Fish Soup by Margarita García Robayo

August is Women in Translation Month, and a good opportunity to explore some new territory. I am one who shies away from reading Latinx authors translated into English, but it’s so hard to get affordable copies in original version in Dallas that I threw the towel and got “Fish Soup” by Margarita García Robayo from my local library. This is actually a collection of two novellas and some short stories.

While reading, the question: “are you plot or character driven” kept coming up on my mind. Her characters are so unlikable, but I read in an interview that that’s on purpose. She wanted her characters to be flawed and real, with common passions and frustrations. And I think she managed that pretty well. I was definitely hooked on the plot, and liked how she set the environment, but these novellas and stories are still not action packed. You get the feeling that everything is left in the air, unresolved. Pretty much like real life.

I could relate to that feeling of frustration and stagnation that comes from being born middle class in Latin America. Nothing seems to happen in the middle, yet we all feel that social climbing is a possibility. Through trapped in a society where your family name and distance to power is the only way to ascend the social ladder, middle classes are still under the spell of meritocracy. If I go to the right schools maybe I’ll meet someone with connections that’ll take me somewhere. If I set up my small corner shop selling trinkets or get a taxi concession, a few years of hard work will reap great results. But in reality, we just barely make ends meet most months, get in debt those when we can’t, and generation after generation fight the same problems, carry the same burden.

Fans of American Dirt will say that this collection is not “Latinx enough”. There’s no drug violence, soap opera stars or migrants on top of trains. Just cabin-crew members with dreams of Miami, widows fighting cancer, fishermen struggling with the effects of climate change and catholic school girls sick of misogynistic messages shoved up their throats. So it might not be the Latin America that lives in the minds of some Americans, but it’s definitely the Latin America I lived in for over 20 years.